The Synagogue of Laa an der Thaya

The first known Jewish community of
Laa an der Thaya goes back to the Middle Ages. New communities were formed or old ones formed again after the pogroms in the Middle Ages and after the long-time expulsion of the 17th century. With the communities places for prayer were established. It is unknown where the Jewish people from Laa prayed before the 19th century. The first prayer room that is known through witnesses of the past was located in the middle of the Kirchengasse. (Letter by Edith Fischbach, January 6th 1994). People prayed there in the beginning of the 20th century. One can assume that people gathered in a bigger room of a privately owned house - as it was the case in bigger villages of the area (e.g. Poysdorf). Synagogues were established in towns with bigger communities. The synagogue in Laa was located at Burgplatz 1. It was the community’s place of prayer until 1938.


Actually it is not totally right to speak of a synagogue, since it was neither a detached house, nor was it’s only use to be a house of prayer. A separate doorway led to a staircase to the first floor since there was a non-kosher restaurant in the ground floor. To call the synagogue a prayer room though would be hairsplitting. The members of the Jewish community as well as the Christian inhabitants of Laa called it the synagogue.

Here you can see the original door of the synagogue. Behind it lies a staircase to the first floor. The picture was taken in October 2008.

Remarkable are the frontage decorations underneath the windows. One cannot say if the 7-pettaled plant was chosen to hint at the seven tribes of Israel or if it was pure coincidence. I have seen similar frontage decorations in Moravian towns. (photo taken in October 2008)


I want to quote some Jewish people from Laa to give you an impression on the former interior of the synagogue and the services there. (For further information on Jewish families of the town read my article on Jewish life published in the magazine “David” or the chapter “Testimonies”.)

“The synagogue was very spartan, just light brown benches in rows, in the front a curtain and behind it the holy Thora Scrolls, which were read from during holidays. At an elevation there was the place of the cantor. Further in the back there was a separate place for women.
In my time I only saw Christians in the synagogue that lit the light and switched it off or tidied the room - no other visitors.”
(Letter by
Karola Zucker, October 27th 1992)

“Services usually took place:
    In my days Mr. Fischhof was our religion teacher, he was cantor, rabbi and slaughtered the poultry.
    (Letter by
    Ernst Neumann, February 27th 1994)

    A woman from Laa, who had lived all her life very close to the synagogue, told me in an interview that the door at the balcony was opened on hot summer days, so that the prayers of the cantor and the community would be heard across the square. She described it as a familiar memory of her childhood. This is once again proof of the deep rooting of the synagogue in the Jewish community in Laa an der Thaya before 1938.

    The following pictures, which are privately owned, show the synagogue when it was still in use.

    I could not find out what happened to the synagogue in 1938. It is likely that the interior was either destroyed or probably even brought to Prague where the Nazis wanted to build a “Museum of a Liquidated Race”.

    After the 2
    nd World War the first floor of the house was transformed into an apartment. When a high school teacher rented it, he got the nickname “temple professor” (high school teachers are still called “professor” in Austria).

    Time passed and the house decayed. The plaster crumbled away and nobody wanted to live in it any more. The owners changed again and again. What seemed to be a building lot in prime location soon turned into an expensive project since the frontage is heritage-protected. At that time the
    collecting box was found - the last known remaining interior of the synagogue.

    In the early 90s I took some photos that show the condition of the house:
    The entrance door to the staircase leading to the synagogue in the first floor and a window in the 1st floor (pictures taken in the 90s):
    The paint in the rooms in the first floor had so far crumbled down that parts of the original wall decorations could be seen. Here you can see two pictures of the ceiling of the former synagogue:
    This picture shows an ornamental border that was painted at a height of about 1 meter and ran horizontally.

    Finally somebody bought the synagogue who could finance its renovation. Ever since the building has been shining in its old glory. In 2008, when the picture was taken, there was a restaurant in the ground floor – just as 100 years before.

    Today the first floor is a privately used apartment and therefore no longer publicly accessible. Sill one has to be glad that the building is preserved. When the picture was taken (summer 2016) there was a joinery business in the ground floor.